November 19, 2018


The Aser Stories 63: The Second Step


You know how they say "The first step's a doozy?" Well it's a piece of cake compared to when you decide to put the next step in front of the first.

"What's all this stuff?" Margot the Troll asked Melody, gesturing with a huge scaly hand at the pile of trunks, suitcases, and sacks belonging to the barmaid who wanted to follow us on our trail.

"It's my stuff, ma'am," said the girl, pronouncing it "mum."

"What kind of stuff, Melody?" I asked her, although I already knew the answers.

"My mummy's dishes, my clothes, my books, Gammer's wedding quilt for when I get married, some silverwares for the table, a linen set for a kitchen and one for a bed. Won't it fit on your wagon?"

I held up my pack and my staff. "No, girl, this is all I carry, plus the dagger and water flask on my belt. We don't have a wheelbarrow, let alone a wagon."

Her brow wrinkled. "But I thought that when you ladies paid for your beer with gold, that you were rich travelers."

"Hey, I have gold because I am one hard-working troll," said Margot, her orange eyes glowing. "But that doesn't mean I'll bounce my ass off in a wagon."

"Melody, maybe you're better off staying here and marrying Orthy the Innkeeper. You'll be able to keep your family heirlooms and pass them on to your own daughters." I turned to go. False dawn was gone, and we wanted to be on the western side of Shaddir when it grew light.

How easy it is to say, "I'm going to change my life tomorrow! I'm going to do new things! I'm going to go new places!" And some worthies will pat you on the back and say, "Oh, aye, it's the first step that's the hardest, and you've just taken it!"

I think that it's the second step that's the hardest, because with the first step, you've still got that lagging foot mired in what you had and where you were before. The second step is figuring out what all you have to leave behind. I remember this clerk who had worked for a banker in Great Well since he was a boy. He'd been sent to work at the bank as soon as he learned his sums and had a passable writing hand. In his twentieth year with the firm, he was given a bonus and a whopping four weeks vacation. He traveled the Great North Road, and on his journey, met a centauress and fell in love. He chose to leave his steady job at the bank to go live in the wilderness with the centaurs. "It was easy to tell my boss I was quitting," he said, "but after saying goodbye to all the good people I had worked with since I was a boy, walking out the front door never to return again hurt like an arrow in my heart."

Melody looked troubled, her gaze set upon the big trunk in which, I guessed, resided her mother's dishes and grandmother's wedding quilt.

"Listen," rumbled Margot. "My parents used to live in Giant Country, and they say it was one crappy place to live. Giants hate trolls up there, but they don't even remember why, so a troll family couldn't ever make up with them. When they knew I was in Mom's belly, they picked up and left their homestead, just left it standing open, and set out for Northold. There was no way they could sell any of their housewares to giants, and there was no way for them to carry anything, because they didn't have any way to buy a pull-cart. Dad cussed and swore the whole way because he promised to carry Mom's cookpots and frying pans, but that and a couple blankets they wrapped around themselves was all they kept. But they made out okay. When they got to Northold, they were made welcome, and folks there were glad to give them of their excess to get them started again. They changed their names to Pierre and Adele, and they still live there, as happy as you like. Sometimes you just got to shut your eyes and shake hands with Chance.

"Or you don't," concluded the troll. "You can make the best of your situation with all your treasures and memories around you. Both ways work, as long as you know that you're the one who makes the choice." As the girl continued to stare at the pile of goods, Margot turned her back as well.

"No, wait!" hissed the girl. "I can't stay! Not now that I almost left!" She turned with a swirl of her cloak and stared at the back door of the inn. "I can't go back in there, I'll hate myself all my life if I do!"

"If you come with us," I said, "you'll find yourself sleeping out in the open quite often. You'll get cold, and you'll get wet. Hungry, too, don't let me forget that. You'll meet strange wayfarers, and wild animals will bite you on the leg."

Margot gave me a nudge with her elbow that nearly knocked me to the ground. "Don't believe everything that Aser says. Are you coming with us or not?"

"Tell me what I have to bring -- oh! and tell me what I can do with the rest, for I surely don't want that turd Orthy to use my family's goods." She began rummaging in a suitcase to pull out a tunic and skirt.

"There's a tailor on this street, on the next block," I said. "She's a widow, and has a half-dozen kids. Why don't we drag this over to her and let her make what use of it as she will?"

The girl had struggled into the tunic and skirt, wearing them over the lavender dress and petticoats, and wrapped her grandmother's quilt across one shoulder. The leather strap that had held closed the trunk she wrapped around her waist to secure the quilt. She tightened the makeshift belt, and the end of it nearly dragged to the ground. "Let's go," she said grimly. Heaving two trunks onto a blanket, she began dragging it up the alley towards the tailor's shop.

As Margot and I swung bags to our shoulders and hoisted suitcases, I took the opportunity to mention to the tall troll, "You know, Margot, I'm the one who's supposed to tell examples of what other people have done in similar situations. That's part of what being a shaman is all about."

She looked down at me from her eight feet tall. "Right, Aser, why didn't you just put your hand over my mouth and stop me?"

"Margot, I guess I just wanted to take my arm and hand with me when I go."

She chuckled like the sound of fracturing sandstone. "As long as you know you're the one who made that choice."

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-08-18

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In the same series:

The Accursed
The Aser Stories: Sidelong
The Aser Stories 80: Cabin Fever
The Aser Stories 79: Just Don't Say It Before Spring
The Aser Stories 78: Judgment Call
The Aser Stories 77: "Are We There Yet?"
The Aser Stories 76: A Bone to Pick
The Aser Stories 75: Coalition Forces
The Aser Stories 74: Flying Monkeys
The Aser Stories 73: Elspeth, Ad Nauseam
The Aser Stories 072: Starve a Cold
The Aser Stories 071: House Call
The Aser Stories 70: Dinner Dates
The Aser Stories 69: Fire in the Hole
The Aser Stories 68: The Silk Fable
The Aser Stories 67: The Simple Life
The Aser Stories 66: For What You're Worth
The Aser Stories 65: Taking a Shot
The Aser Stories 64: Second Chances
The Aser Stories 63: The Second Step
The Aser Stories 63: Second Thoughts
The Aser Stories 60: Fish Story
The Aser Stories 59: Ace in the Hole
The Aser Stories 58: Knowledge is Power
The Aser Stories 57: Animal Tracks
The Aser Stories 56: Oz Can Keep Them All
The Aser Stories 55: Small Comfort
The Aser Stories 54: Letting Go
The Aser Stories 53: In a Spirit of Healing
The Aser Stories 52: Stinkin' Kids
The Aser Stories 51: No Words For It
The Aser Stories 50: The Friend in Need
The Aser Stories 49: Run for Cover
The Aser Stories 48: On the Fly
The Aser Stories 47: Just Thievery
The Aser Stories 46: Take My Shaman ... Please
The Aser Stories 45: Hot Stuff
The Aser Stories 44: Courtesy Call
The Aser Stories 43: Adding Insult to Injury
The Aser Stories 42: Natural Selection
The Aser Stories 41: Funny Business
The Aser Stories 40: Happy Endings
The Aser Stories 39: Working Dogs
The Aser Stories 38: Taking Sides
The Aser Stories 37: Dumb Animals
The Aser Stories 36: Harsh Words
The Aser Stories 35: Endangered Species
The Aser Stories 34: Common Language
The Aser Stories 33: Legal Torture
The Aser Stories 32: Whose Fault Is It?
The Aser Stories 31: Money Talks
The Aser Stories 30: The Perils of Sympathy
The Aser Stories 29: Raccoons
The Aser Stories 28: The Ghost of Garfer Miller
The Aser Stories 27: Dynamite
The Aser Stories 26: Junk Mail
The Aser Stories 25: Rose-Covered Cottages
The Aser Stories 24: Crime and Punishment
The Aser Stories 23: Image Is Everything
The Aser Stories 22: Is As Does
The Aser Stories 21: Gourmet Dining
The Aser Stories 20: Families and How They Are
The Aser Stories 19: The Difference Between Men and Women
The Aser Stories 18: On a Silver Platter
The Aser Stories 17: Point of View
The Aser Stories 16: Easy Street
The Aser Stories 15: Moguls
The Aser Stories 14: A Mile Toward Change
The Aser Stories 13: The Price of Freedom
The Aser Stories 12: A Question of Nudity
The Aser Stories 11: Rabbit From a Hat
The Aser Stories 10: Awards
The Aser Stories 09: On A Roll
The Aser Stories 08: Raising Children
The Aser Stories 07: Crosspasses Market
The Aser Stories 06: Judge, Jury, Shaman
The Aser Stories 05:Habit and Stubbornness
The Aser Stories 04: The Wrong Question
The Aser Stories 03: The Labor of Love
The Aser Stories 02: Soup du Jour
The Aser Stories 01: Popping the Big Question
The Aser Stories 40a: Customary Behavior
The Aser Stories 36a: Madly In Love
The Aser Stories 03a: Descent to the Underworld

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